'Never Heard Nothing Like It': Southern Storm Wrecks Landmark Churches
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
It's shaping up to be a brutal winter, in part, because the polar vortex has splintered. Powerful storms are moving across the country, now hitting the East Coast. In the south, heavy thunderstorms spawned an apparent tornado that hit parts of a town in central Alabama. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott reports.
KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: The Coosa River runs through the heart of Wetumpka, which is 20 miles north of Alabama's capital city, Montgomery. On the east side of the river is the business district, which has a casino that brings around 3 million people to the area each year. Jonathan Smithart manages a restaurant in the casino. He says he was at an intersection on his way to work on Saturday afternoon when the storm hit.
JONATHAN SMITHART: I look up and the light starts - traffic light starts shaking, jumping back and forth. And then just gray and just strong wind, and the car starts shaking. And...
GASSIOTT: Then, he says, a tree fell on the trunk of his car.
SMITHART: So three feet and it would've been on my head, maybe - pretty scary.
GASSIOTT: Some injuries were reported after the storm passed as citizens saw the damage to buildings and houses on the immediate west side of the river.
JERRY WILLIS: This church has probably been painted and captured on canvas more than any other place or structure, you know, in our area, in our county.
GASSIOTT: Mayor Jerry Willis is standing in front of what used to be the Presbyterian church and is now a pile of wood with a few standing walls. The church was over a century old. And its tall, white steeple was one of the most well-known landmarks in the area. Now that steeple is gone as is the one on the Baptist church across the street. Emma Hoppes has lived next door to both of the historic churches for 35 years. She's ready for things to be rebuilt. But first, she wants to put the memory of this storm out of her mind.
EMMA HOPPES: It sounded awful. I thought I was working in a steel mill or something. It was awful. I never heard nothing like it - don't want to hear it no more, either.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY RUNNING)
GASSIOTT: By nightfall, with a curfew for citizens in place, work on clearing the streets of debris and power lines has begun. At the Presbyterian church, someone has rescued a painting of the steeple and placed it on a post near the street. I ask Mayor Willis if the image of Christ smiling down on the building speaks to the strength of the community.
WILLIS: Well, it tells you that. And it tells you where we need to put our trust.
GASSIOTT: The National Weather Service in Birmingham has said that it will determine if a tornado did indeed hit the area and if so, what rating it should get. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Wetumpka, Ala.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT RANDOLPH & THE FAMILY BAND'S "I STILL BELONG TO JESUS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.